OCEAN CITY — Despite some concerns with the potential odor, noise and other impacts on the neighboring community and adjacent businesses, the Ocean City Mayor and Council on Monday approved a conditional use request for the proposed Ocean City Brewing Company on the site of the old Adkins Lumber Company at 56th Street.
The Ocean City Brewing Company, proposed for a site along Coastal Highway at 56th Street, which most recently home to Sassy Beachwear, will be a mixed-use project including a restaurant and bar and an on-site brewery producing beer for sale on the property and for wholesale distribution. The proposed brewery is of a much larger scale than the smaller local breweries that have sprung up in and around the resort area in recent years and consequently needed approval as a conditional use in the commercially-zoned area in and around 56th Street.
The conditional use approval is just another step, albeit an important one, for the project. The Ocean City Planning Commission, which is expected to review the overall site plan for the project on Tuesday night, sent a favorable recommendation for the conditional use approval to the Mayor and Council after allaying some of their own concerns with the brewery segment of the project. After considerable debate on Monday, the Mayor and Council approved the conditional use request but only after adding several conditions of their own.
The project includes an on-site brewery capable of producing 1,000 gallons of beer, or roughly 60 kegs, in a single batch. During the Planning Commission review of the conditional use request, company staffers explained the brewery would likely produce one batch per week at most times of the year, with more than one batch produced at other times depending on the demand. The process takes at least two days from start to finish, so even at peak times the brewery might produce a batch two or three times per week.
Much of the brewing process will take place inside the existing building on the site, but there are certain elements that must be accommodated outside the existing building, perhaps most importantly a 31-foot tall grain storage bin, or silo, located outside and at the rear of the property.
The grain used in the brewing process will be delivered by truck and air-blown into the grain storage bin, or silo, which will hold enough grain, or malted barley, for 10 batches of beer, meaning it could be filled about once every 10 weeks depending on the volume of business and frequency of the brewing process. In addition, the used grain, or by-product of the process, will be stored in a large container truck on the property, until it can be hauled away. The by-product has use as feed for poultry and other agricultural uses and will be hauled away the day the brewing process is completed in most cases.
When it reviewed and ultimately approved the conditional use request last month, the Planning Commission voiced concerns over the potential odor of the brewing process and subsequent storage of the by-product on the site and issued its favorable recommendation after some of those concerns were allayed by the applicant. The applicant told the Planning Commission the brewing process would take about four to five hours at least once a week and characterized it as no more offensive than a neighborhood bakery.
On Monday, the Mayor and Council had their own concerns about the potential odor during the brewing process and during the on-site storage of the spend grain as by-product. The town’s elected officials also voiced concern about the appearance of the 31-foot grain storage silo, which will certainly change the landscape in and around the 56th Street area.
“I have some concerns with the look of that grain storage bin, although I’ve been told not to call it a silo,” said Councilmember Joe Mitrecic. “I personally like the smell of beer brewing, but not everybody does.”
Councilmember Margaret Pillas voiced concern about the potential aroma and its impacts on neighboring properties.
“I remember lumber stacked back there, but I don’t remember a smell for several blocks,” said Pillas. “I have a problem with the aroma. If I go to the Best Western and that aroma is wafting up to my balcony, I’m probably not getting used to it, and I’m probably not coming back.”
Councilwoman Mary Knight also expressed concern over the aroma and questioned whether there was a system available to filter, or clean, the air emanating from the brewery. Throughout the discussion, it was brought up at different times how other manufacturing companies clean the air coming from their plants.
“One of my big concerns is the aroma or odor,” said Knight. “Is there a system that can be put on it now before it’s up and running and the complaints start? Also, can’t that grain storage bin be moved inside? I think it could be an eyesore. We welcome this and I think it’s a great project, but we just need some of these issues addressed.”
The 31-foot silo will only be filled once every few weeks and perhaps even longer depending on the frequency of the brewing and the demand for the product, so any dust or noise associated with filling it is expected to be minimal, representatives reported. However, the height of the storage bin in an otherwise fairly residential area raised concerns for the council.
In addition, the on-site storage of the by-product until it can be hauled away after the brewing process also raised concerns. The concerns included the potential odor and even the likelihood seagulls will be attracted to it and everything that entails in terms of impacts on existing businesses, hotels and condos.
Mayor Rick Meehan suggested the developer find a way to move the storage of the by-product inside the facility somehow, along with other equipment expected to be housed outside the building.
“I think they need to find a way to move the storage of the by-product inside because there is plenty of room,” said Meehan. “The same goes for the CO2 system and other equipment. Move that all inside. I think that will alleviate some of the concerns.”
Nonetheless, Meehan said the project is an attractive one for Ocean City and urged the council to approve the conditional use request if certain conditions were implemented and adhered to.
“There’s a lot going on at this property,” he said. “We talk about businesses declining in Ocean City and this is an example of somebody trying to start a viable business. Maybe we need to talk about how it can be done and not how it can’t be done.”
Meehan said the council had before it a request for a conditional use, meaning it had ability to put certain conditions on its approval. If the developer fails to live up to the conditions placed on the approval, the conditional use, by definition, can be taken away.
“This is a permanent conditional use,” he said. “Any time they violate a condition, they can lose their approval. I think they know it’s in their best interest to adhere to any conditions put on it.”
Councilman Doug Cymek said he had conversations with the developer and was satisfied concerns would be addressed through the approval process.
“I’ve been talking to the brewery group and I think they truly want to do whatever they have to in order to make everybody happy,” he said.
Knight agreed the project was exciting and voiced pleasure with the overall concept, but still came back to the large grain storage bin on the property.
“We have to make a decision that’s best for the town,” she said. “We want to encourage this type of development, but I still think that 31-foot silo is going to be a point of contention in the community.”
Pillas said while she liked the concept, she couldn’t vote to approve the conditional use without significant changes.
“This is going to be a no-vote for me,” said Pillas. “We’d love for you to come into town, but I think there are just too many impacts on neighboring businesses.”
The Mayor and Council listed several conditions for approval of the conditional use request. Among them are air scrubbers on the system to alleviate the odor, moving the grain storage bin inside the building, moving the by-product storage inside until such time as it can be removed, a six-foot privacy fence and trees planted in the buffer between neighboring properties, no outside seating for the restaurant and no canned beer produced in the brewery. The council also adopted the conditions placed on the project by the Planning Commission that required the applicant to pay any fees related to the treated wastewater from the brewery and the monitoring of any site plan changes.
The council voted 4-2 with Pillas and Brett Ashley opposed and Councilman Dennis Dare absent to approve the conditional use request.